‘Dragon Tattoo’ Director David Fincher On What’s Next

Fincher, who says 'I think there is a trilogy here,' opens up to MTV News about '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,' 'Cleopatra' and 'Goon.'

If you’ve somehow missed the cultural phenomenon that is Stieg Larsson’s massively successful Millenium trilogy, it might be time to give in and see what all the fuss is about. MTV has already named David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” the best movie of 2011, so you can bet we had plenty to discuss when we sat down with revered director of “The Social Network,” “Fight Club” and “Seven” on the eve of his much-hyped film’s opening.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Fincher candidly addressed the microscope his latest project has been under, plus his plans to work with Angelina Jolie, the summer tent-pole movie he’s actually excited to helm and whom the famously intimidating director actually fears pissing off.

MTV: Congratulations on the film. You may have heard that MTV named it the best film of the year.

David Fincher: I heard that!

MTV: After a long debate, we came to a consensus.

Fincher: Really? What possible debate could there be? [laughs]

MTV: You’ve obviously had plenty of opportunities to helm a franchise and this, despite not being a happy-meal-friendly one, still is one.

Fincher: There are a lot of those [franchise] expectations. I think there is a trilogy here, [but] I was looking it as a one off. I see a beginning, middle and an end in this first story. I would like for people to enjoy it. I would like for people to tell their friends. And I think it tees up two fascinating characters who I have really come to care about. There’s no doubt [Stieg Larsson] wrote it to be a rip-roaring yarn, but I don’t think he could have possibly imagined what it has become. There was no doubt that when we went to Stockholm that there were people asking, “Is this just a Hollywood land grab? Is this a co-opting of our cultural phenomenon?” I saw it as a ripping yarn and a partnership that I’d never seen before, and I like the idea of these two people who should never meet, much less sleep together, much less partner up. I had never seen that before and thought that’s kind of interesting. It was very Swedish and kind of sexy but also kind of oddly moving. Having no experience with the — I’m not saying these books are “Twilight” — but that message-board freak-out phenomenon that goes with it, I was unprepared for it, possibly because I’m just too insulated from the real world and because I’m kind of immune to that kind of sh–.

MTV: The casting story became …

Fincher: The casting story was blown out of proportion by a lot of people. I wasn’t prepared for that. The only way to win is to win on merit, and it’s the only satisfying way to win, and hopefully, that’s what we’ve done. In the end, I still work 14 hours a day whether or not people are doubting me. I doubt myself more, in much smarter and salient ways than people surfing the web.

MTV: Your ending differs from the book’s. Was that a difficult choice?

Fincher: It was an easy choice to make. I thought it was sleeker. I like the idea of someone who has been subjected to this kind of trauma learning to hide in plain sight. It’s a different choice than the one the book makes. Lisbeth manages to occupy in the shadows and margins. This is another way of doing that. And they are parallel stories. It’s silly not to think of them as that.

MTV: Do you have the same affection for the other two books? Are they as cinematically interesting to you?

Fincher: I think the second book is very cinematic. It suffers a little bit from a lack of Salander. I think it also ends in an odd way. I love the notion of really talking about sex trafficking.

MTV: Rooney [Mara] was telling us she already has some ideas for her look the next time around.

Fincher: We did a lot of exploring [the look]. We looked into the stitched, Sally from “Nightmare Before Christmas.” We’ve played around a lot. There are some things that we’ve learned.

MTV: You’re not going to ask her to get implants, are you?

Fincher: It’s interesting because when you go through the checklist of what Larsson did with [Salander], there were a lot of things [that seemed] like quasi-stripper Kardashian land. To me, that’s not who Lisbeth is. The guy created it. He’s not here to defend himself. I hold him in the highest esteem, but I don’t always agree with his choices.

MTV: If he were around, what would you ask him?

Fincher: I don’t know. Look, the person I wanted to impress the most on “Seven” was [screenwriter] Andy Walker. The person I wanted to impress most on “Fight Club” was [author] Chuck Palahniuk. I think my responsibility is first and foremost to the creator.

MTV: Will Jules Verne be happy with what you do with “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”?

Fincher: I think he would be. If we get to do what we’re planning on doing, it’s pretty interesting.

MTV: Was that a book that was important to you as a young man?

Fincher: No, not at all. I was alive when a man stepped on the moon. It was awe-inspiring, the notion of that much care that NASA took. I’m sure it was the same thing for the Manhattan Project. The idea of a post-Civil War version of science fiction and the notion of being able to breathe underwater was so radical in its thinking. That’s pretty cool. If you’re going to do big tent-pole teenage PG-13 summer movies, it’s kind of cool that it would be this.

MTV: Is “Cleopatra” something you’re currently developing?

Fincher: That’s something I would love to do with Angie [Jolie]. It’s something that was brought to me that you have to take seriously. [Producer] Scott [Rudin] has this wonderful book, and hopefully [screenwriter] Eric [Roth] can find a way in. I’m not interested in a giant sword-and-sandal epic. We’ve seen scope; everyone knows we can fake that. That stuff doesn’t impress in the way that it did even 10 years ago. We expect that from Starz [now]. So that’s not the reason to do that. What is it about this character that has purchased this place in our history and imagination that is relatable today?

MTV: One film I’ve talked to you about in the past is “Rendezvous With Rama.” Should we keep talking about it, or should I drop it?

Fincher: You should drop that. It’s great but it’s just a really expensive movie, and talk about the bones being picked by so many other stories …

MTV: IMAX is something that filmmakers like Brad Bird and Christopher Nolan have lately been using. Does it interest you?

Fincher: No. They’re going to have the digital equivalent of IMAX very shortly. I don’t like the idea of changing fidelity in the middle of a movie just to say, “Here comes some big sh–!” Whatever Brad Bird or Chris do is fine by me. I normally think in terms of homogenization. I want to be able to count on a kind of resolution and depth of field. I never saw “The Dark Knight” in IMAX. I could definitely see a difference in fidelity of the IMAX sequences. But to each his own.

MTV: I saw you last at Comic-Con for “Goon.” How is that project looking?

Fincher: We’re still trying. Eric [Powell] rewrote his script. He got away from the genesis story, and I feel like we need to go back to a little bit of what he had before. I don’t think you can tailor what Powell does to what Hollywood does. I think you have to allow for the disparity. I don’t think you can go into it saying, “We have to make it fit into this box.” Everything is a digression from what the main through line is.

MTV: Is there anything else you’re looking to collaborate on with Trent Reznor?

Fincher: We’ve talked about a lot of stuff. I would do anything for him. I feel so lucky to have had his attention for the year and a half that I’ve had it. I’m not going to push my luck. I’m walking on eggshells. I don’t want to piss that guy off.

MTV: There’s always the “Fight Club” musical.

Fincher: I keep trying!

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

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